Scientists find anti-matter trapped in Van Allen belts that 'could fuel a spaceship'

Discussion in 'Members Corner' started by Vyom, Aug 8, 2011.

  1. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

    Dec 23, 2009
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    To infinity and beyond?

    We may not have any viable alternative fuel sources here on Earth yet, but scientists may have discovered an alternative – in space.

    Researchers at the Pamela satellite (Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics), discovered the largest known collection of anti-matter near Earth, trapped between the Van Allen belts.

    The Van Allen belts are a series of donut-shaped rings containing positively charged particles trapped by cosmic rays, solar winds and Earth's magnetic field.

    The belts themselves are formed by the particles “smashing” into molecules that make up Earth’s atmosphere, causing showers of particles.

    It is only after some of the anti-matter escapes the belt and comes into contact with normal matter in the atmosphere that the anti-matter is destroyed in a flash of light.

    It is thought that that reaction could create enough energy to power a spacecraft.

    The team hope the discovery can be harnessed as a fuel source in time for DARPA's 100-year Starship program.

    In a study for NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts, scientists discuss the benefits of using anti-matter as a fuel source.

    “The revolutionary potential of this technology is due to the fact that antiparticles release an enormous amount of energy when they come into contact with regular matter,” the scientists wrote.

    “The energy density is two to three orders of magnitude higher than nuclear reactions and nearly ten orders of magnitude greater than the best chemical propellants used in spacecraft such as the space shuttle.”

    Origins of life, or just fuel for the fire?

    Scientists at CERN have been experimenting with trapping anti-hydrogen particles to discover what happened at the origin of the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago.

    So far they have only been able to trap the particles for 16 minutes – not quite long enough to unfurl the origins of the universe.

    This newfound mass of anti-matter in the Van Allen belts may be the key to furthering our understandings of the origins of the universe.

    It was once thought the belts only contained matter or “normal” particles, but the team at the Pamela satellite believe it is actually the matter and other cosmic material that is holding the anti-matter in place.

    Dr Allesander Bruno from the University of Bari told the BBC that the belts are capable of trapping anti-matter too.

    "Trapped antiprotons can be lost in the interactions with atmospheric constituents, especially at low altitudes where the annihilation becomes the main loss mechanism," he said.

    "Above altitudes of several hundred kilometres, the loss rate is significantly lower, allowing a large supply of antiprotons to be produced."

    Scientists find anti-matter trapped in Van Allen belts that 'could fuel a spaceship'

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